What You Can (and Can't) Do with a Macro Lens


There are many articles discussing macro photography and what you can do with a macro lens; however, I’d like to also consider some of the things you cannot do with a macro lens.

You cannot grind pepper for your meal, but you can spice up your food photography by incorporating macro close-up images. The unique depictions you can give food and recipe ingredients with a macro lens perspective are ideal for food photography. The textures of foodstuffs and the details we often miss with the eye are brought to life with macro lenses; they seem to bring alive the smells of the kitchen and the tactile pleasure of cooking. With simple natural evening light and a Nikon 105mm f/2.8G lens, I took these shots of peppercorns.

You cannot use a macro lens to spray-paint, but you can definitely use it to explore the colors and styles of graffiti. If you’ve noticed the increase in graffiti since the beginning of lockdown, you are not alone; for good or bad, it has proliferated since the streets emptied in 2020. I happen to like good graffiti, and shooting its colors and forms can be enhanced with a macro lens, especially when you depict the details and impressive flow of the better writers. I used the macro mode of the Leica Q2 Monochrom to photograph these details at f/9 with a shutter speed of 1/1000 second. Most point-and-shoot cameras also have an effective macro mode.

I suppose you could use a lens as a bookend (maybe not a bad craft project for old lenses), but it’s definitely not a good way to care for your gear. You could, however, have some fun shooting the text of a book and really experimenting with the precision of selective focus. Photographers use focus, whether we realize it or not, to emphasize attributes of a subject and direct the viewer’s eyes where we want them to go. Although it may be a tad literal, playing with the focus on words in a story creates a playful re-examination of how we interpret what we see and read. B&H offers an impressive range of macro photography how-to books to help improve your skill set.

Do not use a macro lens as a candle holder. While it fits this candle perfectly and doesn’t look half bad, I cannot emphasize enough the damage you will do to your lens if hot wax made its way down the candle. However, macro photography is an ideal way to photograph flames and fire. Macro photography looks deep into its subject’s world and creates new ways of seeing. The shifts and flickers of a flame can be photographed a thousand times and never look the same, but getting sharp and close focus on the flame makes fascinating images. If you don’t have a macro lens, try using extension tubes with your standard lenses to bring minimum focus distance closer.

Whether you are a veteran photographer looking to experiment or just beginning your photographic journey, macro photography awaits you with unique challenges and a truly remarkable ability to spark the imagination. By getting close to the subject, new ways to compose, to focus, and to depict a subject appear and lead the photographer to renewed creative expressions and better images.

In the Comments section below, let us know how you experiment with macro photography.


I love photographing bees in flight - my wife's terrified of it, because I'm totally allergic to bee stings (I'm supposed to carry an Epipen around with me, ALWAYS, wherever I go - but of course I never do!)  Best is high speed - catch them in midair, with their wings showing clearly! - just about to alight on another flower and collect some more nectar to take back to the hive.

Or closeups of flowers - I have motorised stack shot rail to fit the camera on, I can select the "thickness" of the slices I capture and then use a program like Zerene to weld them all together.  You get amazing details of flowers, doing this.  Or a friend's collection of jewellery that she made - again, the detail is incredible!

For food, I prefer to use a tilt-shift.  Now there's a thought - can we get someone to make a tilt-shift MACRO for us?

Thanks jean ... this is great advice....although, please keep the epipen close.  Its interesting, for years I photographed bugs and flowers when doing macro work, but went away from it. For this article I found a garden that was loaded with bees and I went a little mad trying to capture that perfect in-flight shot. I say mad, because while its fun, it can be so frustrating when you lose focus, and you just keep trying.  What fascinated me however was just the quantity of pollen they carry on their legs and still fly (up to 30% of body weight I read).    About T-S Macro lenses, they do exist in a form.... check out the 15mm macro lenses from Venus Optics that will utilize +/-6 mm of vertical shift when used with apsc camera.